XENIA — Sunday is the 42nd anniversary of the 1974 Xenia tornado.
The tornado injured 1,150 and destroyed approximately 1,400 buildings — about half of those in Xenia. Nine schools, nine churches and almost 180 businesses were destroyed in the F5 tornado, which claimed more than 30 lives.
The twister was part of the the 1974 Super Outbreak, which was the second-largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period, just behind the 2011 Super Outbreak. It was also the most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded, with 30 F4/F5 tornadoes confirmed. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 U.S. states and Ontario, Canada.
Tornadoes struck Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and New York. The entire outbreak caused more than $600 million (in 1974 dollars) in damage in the U.S. alone, and extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles according to online reports. At one point, as many as 15 separate tornadoes were ongoing at the same time.
Xenia had no tornado sirens back then, but many were installed after, which helped alert residents to the September 2000 F4 tornado that hit the city, following a parallel path just north of the 1974 tornado path.
Spring is the most common time of the year for the area to experience tornadic weather, followed by the early fall. This part of the country is in a ripe area when it comes to potential tornadic activity.
“The Miami Valley area is unique,” said National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Brandon Peloquin. “It’s sort of on the eastern fringe of what we would call Tornado Alley. It just seems like spring time … the seasons are changing. You get two elements that sometimes come together that produce severe thunderstorms that lead to tornadoes.”
Those necessarily elements are instability in the atmosphere and wind shear (turning of the winds), Peloquin said. Instability can lead to thunderstorm formation and, according to Peloquin, if the wind shear helps the storms rotate they can spawn tornadoes.
Meteorologists are able to better monitor the weather conditions than in 1974 and can give residents more warning about the potential for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
Peloquin said heeding the watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service and being aware of “what’s going on” are the key to safety.
A watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes, while a warning means a confirmed tornado is on the ground or Doppler radar has indicated a tornado, according to Peloquin.
“(Have) multiple ways to receive weather updates, multiple ways to receive alerts when tornado warnings are issued,” he said. “One good one is having a NOAA weather radio. I think that’s a really important first step.”
Tornadoes can happen with any severe thunderstorm, Peloquin said, and there doesn’t necessarily have to be any type of watch or warning issued.
He added that residents can keep an eye to the sky and seek shelter if they see rotating clouds or a funnel cloud. He said the lowest floor possible is the safest place to be, followed by an interior room away from windows.
“Have a plan in place and practice that plan before an event actually strikes,” Peloquin said. “You don’t want to go outside and try and look for it or whatever. What we want people to do … is to take cover.”
He used the acronym DUCK as a good way to stay safe: Down to the lowest level; Under something; Cover your head; Keep in shelter until the storm has passed.